U.S. to Amer­i­cans: Stay away from Cuba

Wash­ing­ton tells half of its diplo­matic corps to leave af­ter mys­te­ri­ous ‘at­tacks’

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - By The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — The United States is­sued an omi­nous warn­ing to Amer­i­cans on Fri­day to stay away from Cuba and or­dered home more than half the U.S. diplo­matic corps, ac­knowl­edg­ing that nei­ther the Cubans nor Amer­ica’s FBI can fig­ure out who or what is re­spon­si­ble for months of mys­te­ri­ous health ail­ments.

No longer tip­toe­ing around the is­sue, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion shifted to call­ing the episodes “at­tacks” rather than “in­ci­dents.”

The U.S. ac­tions are sure to rat­tle al­ready del­i­cate ties be­tween the long­time ad­ver­saries who only re­cently be­gan putting their hos­til­ity be­hind them. The U.S. Em­bassy in Cuba will lose roughly 60 per­cent of its Amer­i­can staff and will stop pro­cess­ing visas for prospec­tive Cuban trav­el­ers to the United States in­def­i­nitely, of­fi­cials said. Roughly 50 Amer­i­cans had been work­ing at the em­bassy.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said that in Cuba, “they did some very bad things” that harmed U.S. di­plo­mats, but he didn’t say who he might mean by “they.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who re­viewed op­tions for a re­sponse with Trump, said, “Un­til the gov­ern­ment of Cuba can en­sure the safety of our di­plo­mats in Cuba, our em­bassy will be re­duced to emer­gency per­son­nel in or­der to min­i­mize the num­ber of di­plo­mats at risk of ex­po­sure to harm.”

In Fri­day’s travel warn­ing, the State De­part­ment said that U.S. per­son­nel first en­coun­tered un­ex­plained phys­i­cal ef­fects in Cuban ho­tels. While Amer­i­can tourists aren’t known to have been hurt, the agency said they could be ex­posed if they travel to the is­land — a pro­nounce­ment that could hit a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of Cuba’s econ­omy that has ex­panded in re­cent years as the U.S. has re­laxed re­stric­tions.

At least 21 di­plo­mats and fam­ily mem­bers have been af­fected. The de­part­ment said symp­toms in­clude hear­ing loss, dizzi­ness, headache, fa­tigue, cog­ni­tive is­sues and dif­fi­culty sleep­ing. Un­til Fri­day, the U.S. had gen­er­ally re­ferred to “in­ci­dents.” Tiller­son’s state­ment ended that prac­tice, men­tion­ing “at­tacks” seven times; the travel alert used the word five times.

Still, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has point­edly not blamed Cuba for per­pe­trat­ing the at­tacks, and of­fi­cials have spent weeks weigh­ing how to min­i­mize the risk for Amer­i­cans in Cuba with­out un­nec­es­sar­ily harm­ing re­la­tions or fall­ing into an ad­ver­sary’s trap.

If the at­tacks have been com­mit­ted by an out­side power such as Rus­sia or Venezuela to drive a wedge be­tween the U.S. and Cuba, as some in­ves­ti­ga­tors have the­o­rized, a U.S. pull­out would end up re­ward­ing the ag­gres­sor. On the other hand, of­fi­cials have strug­gled with the moral di­men­sions of keep­ing di­plo­mats in a place where the U.S. gov­ern­ment can­not guar­an­tee their safety.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ered ex­pelling Cuban di­plo­mats from the U.S., of­fi­cials said, but for now no such ac­tion has been or­dered. That in­censed sev­eral law­mak­ers who had urged the ad­min­is­tra­tion to kick out all of Cuban’s en­voys.

“It’s an in­sult,” said Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio, a Repub­li­can and a vo­cal critic of Cuba’s gov­ern­ment, in an in­ter­view. “The Cuban regime suc­ceeded in forc­ing Amer­i­cans to down­scale a num­ber of per­son­nel in Cuba, yet it ap­pears they’re go­ing to ba­si­cally keep all the peo­ple they want in Amer­ica to travel freely and spread mis­in­for­ma­tion.”

Cuba blasted the Amer­i­can move as “hasty” and lamented that it was be­ing taken with­out con­clu­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults. Still, Jose­fina Vi­dal, Cuba’s top diplo­mat for U.S. af­fairs, said her gov­ern­ment was will­ing to con­tinue co­op­er­a­tion with Wash­ing­ton “to fully clar­ify these in­ci­dents.” Her gov­ern­ment took the rare step of the invit­ing the FBI to the is­land af­ter be­ing pre­sented with the al­le­ga­tions ear­lier this year.

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